One of Satan’s ultimate goals is to malign the character of God. Up in the sky, Satan would have you believe, is a Deity who watches us intently at all times, just waiting for us to screw up. Do enough good deeds, live up to His standards, and you’ll be rewarded. Do too few good deeds or even too many bad ones, and . . . well, you’re done for.
Enter NBC’s The Good Place, a sitcom based entirely on this misguided concept.
Of course, a secular television program isn’t going to get all the theology right. A sitcom grounded in theological truth wouldn’t be much of a sitcom, after all. But there are some dangerous assumptions in The Good Place, and wrapped in the guise of a colorful and funny show, it’s easy to dismiss them. Pay attention, though, and the implications are disturbing.
The Good Place
In season one, the main character, Eleanor, dies. She is sent to “the Good Place,” which is a nice way to say “Heaven” without offending anyone. The Good Place is a pleasant enough way to spend the afterlife, with “froyo on every corner, a predetermined soulmate for everyone, and a remarkably rigid point system used to achieve admission. (E! Online)”
Michael, the “architect” of this utopia, guides Eleanor through her transition into the afterlife. Of course, there is no God to be found here, just a few fellow souls who have also recently passed on. There’s also a nearly-all-knowing robot.
Eleanor quickly discovers that she was mistakenly sent to Heaven, because she was kind of a jerk when she was alive. Most of the first season revolves around Eleanor and her new friends trying to make up for her past misdeeds so that she can truly be worthy of the Good Place, before the “higher-ups” discover their mistake and send her to the Bad Place.
There is a literal point system used to determine one’s suitability for Heaven, and everyone in the Good Place has either greatly exceeded the threshold . . . or just barely scraped by. That is, mostly everyone.
Later, we discover that this utopia is actually a facade engineered by Michael. Eleanor, and everyone else in the show up until this point, has actually been laboring in the Bad Place. Their efforts were part of a scheme devised by Michael (actually a demon) to drive them to insanity for all of eternity.
Season one ends with Michael wiping everyone’s memory so the experiment can begin again.
Obviously, the show isn’t going for Biblical accuracy, so it’s kind of silly to fault them for their theology. The main thesis of the show is not that “the key to getting into Heaven is doing good deeds.” It’s not a religious show at all, really–Heaven (the Good Place) is just a unique setting for a funny script.
But that’s exactly what makes the underlying assumption so dangerous. In “the Good Place,” it’s taken for granted that works are the way to Heaven, and if you don’t measure up, you’re sent to Hell. There’s no real discussion about this–it’s just the way things obviously are. No mention is made of a relationship with Jesus or how that could factor into things.
Even worse is the fact that, when we discover that the show has actually been set in Hell all along, the people sentenced to eternal repetition are people we identify with. They weren’t good enough to get to Heaven, apparently, but they’re not bad people.
This is one of the greatest problems non-believers have with God. Why would a loving God sentence His creation to eternal suffering based on such arbitrary rules? If one point can make the difference between bliss and torture, what’s the point of even trying?
And really, when it comes right down to it, why try to get to Heaven at all? If the ideas set forth by the Good Place are to be believed, Heaven is a bland, vanilla existence–the 21st century version of harps and clouds.
Hell, at least, is interesting.